Yu Hua on Internet Censorship in China

The New York Times has an interesting article by the Chinese author Yu Hua (perhaps best known in English for the novel Brothers) on the disturbing increase of Internet censorship in China. It seems that while the Chinese government is publicly requesting critiques from its citizens, in practice the story is much different:

Last year began as a relatively permissive period for expression of opinion. Following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, in November 2012, officials both in Beijing and in the provinces acknowledged the need to heed criticisms coming from the people.

Such criticism was not to be found in the official media, of course, so one had to go looking for it in the world of Weibo, the microblogging site. But often you wouldn’t find the criticisms there, either, because Weibo was chock-full of the message, “Sorry, the text has been deleted.”

The contrast between official welcoming of criticism and actual resistance to it is both contradictory and completely normal. For many party officials, the more sharply they are criticized, the more embarrassingly their lack of administrative acumen is exposed. So they welcome criticism (if at all) only when delivered in private.

Yu goes on to explain how he’s witnessed several sequences of greater and lesser crackdowns over time, likening them to pendulum swings.

Lately around the Two Lines Press offices we’re fascinated by these sorts of stories because in May we’ll be publishing our first ever novel from the Chinese language, called Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen. And as this New York Times article makes clear, his brand of fiction is not exactly the kind the Chinese government is comfortable with. Interestingly, when China was the guest of honor at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, there was some surprise that Running Through Beijing was given government backing:

China invested $15 million and managed nearly every detail of its exhibition. There was much argument over what translations to finance. The 20 new German-published volumes China financed include works by major writers, like Jiang Rong’s “Wolf Totem,” Yu Hua’s “Brothers,” and Xu Zechen’s “Running Through Zhongguancun.”

Mr. Xu’s hit, about a migrant hawking pirated DVDs and fake IDs in the capital, was unexpected. But of some 100 newly translated titles that China promoted, most are banal introductions to China from state publishers.

“The government has not put on such a concentrated, large-scale event before to promote Chinese literature, so I think it’s a good opportunity,” said Mr. Xu, 31. “Because of the government’s involvement, there are inevitably going to be these ideological problems. But we just have to be responsible to ourselves.”

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